On Tuesday, Cutter Loose is underway from Barefoot Landing Marina in Myrtle Beach, SC at 9 AM. Our destination today is Dutchman Creek near Southport, NC, a journey of 33 miles. Once past the Barefoot Landing Bridge, we enter the “Rockpile”, a section of the waterway that is so narrow that only one vessel can pass through this segment at any one time. Traffic on the ICW is light this morning, so there is no need to share the channel with other vessels. In North Myrtle Beach, the waterway is lined with small lot subdivisions and condos. The dredged sections of ICW is interrupted only by various inlets to the Atlantic Ocean, including the Little River Inlet (aka “Calabash Crossroads”) where casino tour boats dock alongside the ICW, shuttling their guests through the inlet and into the Ocean. Once in the ocean, gambling becomes legal. These tour boats consume the entire width of the ICW, leaving little space for pleasure boats. Thankfully, we transit Calabash Crossroads free of casino boat traffic. Just north of the New River Inlet, we leave South Carolina and enter North Carolina.
After passing Shallotte Inlet and Lockwoods Folly Inlet, we arrive at Dutchman’s Creek in time for low tide. In one sense, this is beneficial because the water depth will never become lower than it is at the time of anchoring. But this creek is shallower than expected. We are surrounded by salt marshes and anchored with less than a foot of water under the keel of Cutter Loose at dead low tide. On the horizon, the Cape Fear Lighthouse illuminates the evening sky…a precursor to our forthcoming tour of the Cape Fear River in the morning.
Wednesday morning brings clear skies as we enter the Cape Fear River at Southport. This River is a major inlet to the Atlantic Ocean, providing big ship access to the Port of Wilmington about 11 miles upstream. The ICW follows the Cape Fear River for 12 miles before diverting to Snow’s Cut, a narrow dredged channel that leads to the resort community of Carolina Beach. Thankfully, we are riding a three knot favorable current as we travel north along the Cape Fear River. Other than a few ferries crisscrossing the River, the channel is free of big ship traffic this morning. Once north of Carolina Beach, it is a short trip past Masonboro Inlet to Wrightsville Beach, our destination for today. At noon, Cutter Loose is anchored just off of Motts Channel near the bridge that connects the mainland to Wrightsville Beach. Cumulus cloud cover is building to the west, a precursor of an approaching cold front. The afternoon offers an opportunity for a long stroll along the beach and a stop at the local coffee shop for refreshment. Just as dinner is emerging from the galley, the rain and thunder begin. Thankfully, there is very little wind associated with this pre-frontal precipitation. Cutter Loose is the beneficiary of another free boat wash.
At 6:20 AM on Thursday, the anchor is up in Wrightsville Beach with an early start to the day. We achieve our goal of reaching the Wrightsville Beach Bridge well before 7 AM. Prior to 7 AM, the bridge opens on demand. After 7 AM, the bridge opens only on the hour. This is the first of four bridges with restricted openings that we will transit today. Our destination is the town of Swansboro, some 45 miles to the north. We pass through a ten mile section of Marine Corps Base Camp LeJeune, where marine units practice with an assortment of weapons. At certain times, the ICW is closed during military operations. But today, it is a peaceful journey through this remote coastal area. Cutter Loose is anchored in Swansboro harbor at 3:30 PM.
On Friday, it is a short 26 mile trip to Beaufort, NC. Our course takes us past Atlantic Beach and Morehead City and into Beaufort Inlet before turning sharply to the north at Fort Macon to enter the channel into downtown Beaufort. A music festival is underway when we arrive. Most of the marinas are full and Taylor Creek is filled with moored and anchored pleasure boats. We decide to continue north under the Beaufort Channel Bridge to Town Creek. Cutter Loose is anchored at the intersection of Town Creek and Gallant Channel. Later in the afternoon, we are met by local residents and friends Greg and Kate for an evening of dining and an open air concert on the waterfront.